Now that I’m back in the United States and Rwanda feels like a world away, I have had a chance to piece together a few aspects of Rwanda, both big and small, that surprised me.
1. Rwanda really is a “land of a thousand hills”.
Although I knew before arriving that Rwanda was nicknamed the “land of a thousand hills,” I somehow did not anticipate how much the country earns this title. From anywhere in Kigali, you can find a majestic view of the surrounding mountains, and the city itself is full of rolling hills. As you travel outside of the city, the mountains only grow larger, steeper, more numerous, and more striking. I found myself awestruck every day at the beauty that surrounded me.
2. Friends hold hands.
It is not uncommon to find two grown men (or women, for that matter) holding hands while walking down the street. While I was shocked to see this at first, as Rwanda is a very conservative country, I soon learned that holding hands is viewed as a completely platonic and acceptable sign of affection in Rwanda. I wish we held hands more often here in the US, as well!
3. Rwanda is quiet.
Many visitors to Rwanda remark that the country is very quiet, from the surprisingly calm streets of Kigali to the soft-spoken, polite nature of many Rwandans. As a very quiet person myself, I appreciated this, and it may even have helped me to get along with some of my colleagues at the hospital!
4. The country is on the upswing.
Rwanda has had a famously challenging past, which is an understatement. Though many scars still lurk under the surface, and poverty is still widespread, I saw a lot more resilience than I did despair.
It was particularly inspiring to visit Esther’s Aid, a non-profit trade school for impoverished and often orphaned youth, young adults, and women. Esther’s Aid is run by Clare Effiong, a family friend of Charlotte, one of the other researchers on my project. When we arrived at the school, Clare unexpectedly took us up to the head of the classroom to introduce ourselves. Knowing the extremely difficult circumstances of these students, and wondering why they would care about who we were and where we were from, I was surprised to find myself facing a group of remarkably motivated students with many intelligent questions about pursuing a career and even about US politics. Despite their past and their current circumstances, these students were working hard with hope that their future could be better than their past.